Huggins Searches for Answers as Backyard Brawl Looms

MORGANTOWN — It’s natural for head coaches of any sport to be concerned about the next team on the schedule. That concern is magnified when it comes to facing one of your school’s oldest rivals.

That should be the case as West Virginia coach Bob Huggins prepares his Mountaineers (5-3) to face arch-rival Pittsburgh in the “Backyard Brawl”.

However, the Panthers were the last thing on the veteran coach’s mind when he talked to the media following WVU’s 66-56 loss to Florida in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“I’ve never had a guy turn a 180 as much as he has turned,” Huggins said. “He was as coachable as could be and now he’s not. I’ve told them in the locker room that it has to stop. They have to cut it out. You can’t put yourself before the team. I don’t put myself before the team.”

And, while the player’s name was not used by the veteran leader of the Mountaineers, it was assumed by all in attendance that he was referring to one of the Mountaineers’ returnees from last season’s Sweet 16 program.

“They (Florida) throw up a 1-3-1 (in the second half) which we practice against every day, but we don’t pass the ball. We absolutely refuse to pass the ball,” Huggins said. “Our biggest problem is one, we don’t pass it well and, two, we don’t have any idea where it’s supposed to go. It blows my mind that we have a guy wide open and you can’t see him. We had guys open. We didn’t pass the ball.”

But, while Huggins was being ‘politically correct’ in not naming names, fans are, and they are pointing the vast amount of their frustrations on four players — senior Esa Ahmad, and juniors Beetle Bolden, Sagaba Konate and Lamont West.

The numbers from WVU’s latest setback were staggering.

Combined the four players were 6 of 35 from the field (17.1 percent), 1 of 11 from 3-point range (9.1 percent) and 1 of 7 on free throws (14.3 percent). Making matters worse were the 18 total rebounds, four assists and nine turnovers by the quartet while combining for 14 points.

“Konate, he was the best rim protector in the country a year ago,” Huggins said. “He got to where he was a very effective low-post player and he handled ball screens pretty well. He’s gifted, but you can’t turn and stick the ball between two guys. The guys who are really effective, they catch the ball, they feel the defense, they go away from the defense and they score.”

Bolden’s problems have been earning him increased bench time.

“It’s not a case of what I have to do,” Huggins said. “It’s a case of what he needs to do. He needs to go back to being the old Beetle, the guy everyone loves — Beetle Bolden, the first guy in the gym, the last guy to leave. Beetle Bolden, the guy who hung on every word. He does that, he’ll be a pretty good player again. If he doesn’t do that … .”

And, it better happen quickly as WVU entertains a Pitt team that sports a 7-2 mark and leads the ACC’s Atlantic Division under head coach Jeff Capel.

The Panthers are led in scoring by Xavier Johnson’s 16.3 points per game. He is joined in double figures by Jared Wilson-Frame (13.4 ppg), Trey McGowens (10.2 ppg) and Malik Ellison (10.2 ppg). Four other players — Au’Diese Toney (9.6 ppg), Sidy N’Dir (5.8 ppg), Kene Chukwuka (5.7 ppg) and Terrell Brown (4.8 ppg) — average nearly five points and 20 minutes of action on the court.

Like WVU, Pitt is coming off a loss as Niagara slipped by the Panthers by a single point, 71-70.

Huggins is expected to go with his usual lineup of Bolden (11.5 ppg) and Moundsville’s Chase Harler (7.4 ppg) at the guards with Ahmad (15.4 ppg), Konate (13.3 ppg) and Wesley Harris (7.4 ppg) at the forwards.

West (12.3 ppg) and Cameron’s Logan Routt (3.3 ppg) will continue in their roles as being the first players off the bench while South Charleston’s Brandon Knapper (5.0 ppg), junior Jermaine Haley (2-5 ppg), and freshmen Emmitt Matthews Jr. (4.2 ppg), Andrew Gordon (3.8 ppg) and Jordan McCabe (3.1 ppg) will also see playing time.